I’m not so crazy about Christmas. Matthew and I celebrate it by having a nice dinner, and often he goes bike camping, alone or with a few dear friends.
But New Year’s? New Year’s I love.
Not the all-night parties, or the fireworks, or the banging of pots and pans at midnight, or the permeative holiday spirits, or the happy wishes from strangers on the street.
But the promise. I love the promise of the New Year, the symbolism of it.
2000 was my first-ever sober New Year. I’d fantasized about what it would look like since I was ten. I’d throw a smart dinner party with perfect settings in my elegant home, drink champagne from the right glasses, and toast the new millennium with my husband, children, and a social circle that worshiped me.
Instead, I went alone to an AA party on the edge of the Tenderloin. I had no husband, no children, no home, no champagne. What I did have was eight months sober and a half-believed tale that if I stayed that way, I’d be happier and less crazy than the preceding 30 years.
The venue was a cafeteria with old linoleum, cracked paint, and leaking windows. But with the lights down and the decorations hung and the disco balls flashing and the eighties music thumping, it was better than Paris—and certainly better than spending that night with a husband who may or may not still love his asinine alcoholic wife, with children I wouldn’t have known how to raise with love.
Instead, I danced like I danced when I was fourteen years old and my sister Wendy and I snuck into 321 on Santa Monica Boulevard, an 18-and-older dance club that didn’t care how old you were if you were a girl, where we danced on top of five-foot speakers with chains around our boots and safety pins hiking up our skirts, with abandon and tireless joy, dead sober, without breaks, without a drink of water, alone or together, for HOURS.
I danced without breaks, I danced with men, women, alone, with friends. I danced so much that for years afterwards, AA folk would mention remembering me dancing at that party.
And I would be able to tell them that it was the first time in sobriety that I had felt free of self-consciousness, self-doubt, fear of judgment. It was the first time I felt the unfettered joy of sobriety, freedom from the threat of hangover, from the forced and ugly compulsions of the drunkard, from the brutal, humiliating, ostracizing consequences of alcoholism.
I felt the energy of reviving health, of belief in possibilities that lead upwards, instead of downwards, of change, growth, capacity, ability, love. Processing emotions. Interest in life. Growing capabilities. Lust for change. Motivation. Ambition.
And I know it sounds trite, but I left that hall changed, with a gram of belief that my life would actually improve, like people said it would. And that came true.
So that’s what New Year’s has meant to me since, will likely always mean to me. A promise that we can start over, that we can begin from Go, that we can experience paradigm shift, and change for the better as human beings.
I’ll never have another change that was as dramatic as getting sober and the first few years of recovery. But every year, nevertheless, I still feel that promise, and believe if I just take time to think about the year to come, keep aiming at something joyful, visualizing a hope, planning a trajectory, I will continue to work away towards a better life.
Happy, most happy, and happiest of New Year’s wishes to all my readers. Thank you for taking the time to come visit me here, for making this year so full of excitement for me.
For more posts on getting sober, see my Letters to Asher series, here.